MUSIC, LEADERSHIP, CULTURE… and humor (sometimes)

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On Kind Words

Hey Everybody,

It’s been forever and a day since my last post.  This blog is not dead.  It just woke up from hibernation like a bear in winter.  A very long, cold winter.  A very long, cold winter in Antarctica.  Which is pretty much winter all year long.  So now we’re moving out of Antarctica and moving into Southern California.  Which is where I live now. . . shall I go on?

Just a quick thought about kind words.

Funerals are sad, we can all agree on that right?  You know what makes funerals doubly sad?  The fact that the kind words and eulogies given will never be heard by the person who passed away.  The tragedy of “I never got a chance to say . . . ” is an absolute killer.

Going-away parties, last-day-at-work parties, etc are also pretty sad.  A lot of “I have always wanted to tell you this but … ” and “I wish we got to know each other…” or “I think you’re super hot” are kind words that almost sting when you consider the possibility that they might have meant a lot more had they been shared before you ever mentioned leaving!  (Side note: I also feel incredibly awkward when some of the parting words get a little out of hand.  Things like, “You were always my favorite” or “You single-handedly changed my life forever” or “You complete me” are never as much fun to hear when they feel like desperate euphemisms for “Sorry I never gave you the time of day.  Like ever.”  Just for the record, I have never heard these words said to me before so no harm done.  Phew!)

It’s unfortunate that we often save our kindest, best words for when it is almost (or is) too late.  There’s no harm in looking at the people who mean something to you square in the eye once in a while to let them know that they freakin’ rock. I think this is one of many things we could do right away to make this world a better place.

So tell me: What are some “parting words” you heard that made you feel ridiculous?  On the converse, what are some in-the-moment-when-it-matters words you heard that totally breathed new life into you? 

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My son, the 2 yr old advocate for the poor

Every weekday morning, I take my 2 year-old son, Micah, to school.  School has been the place where Micah could satisfy his growing social needs while mommy and daddy get some quiet time for a few hours each day.  It’s a win-win situation in every sense.

There is a definite routine to our morning trek.  We eat breakfast, get dressed, kiss mommy and baby Isla goodbye and head downstairs with the umbrella stroller in my left hand and Micah rested on my right arm.  Once downstairs, we say “buenos dias” and “hasta luego” to our building manager, Juan, and then I strap Micah in the stroller… and away we go!

We then say “hola, buenos dias” to about a dozen people on our way to school.  There’s Mari, the street-parking guide along with her husband.  There’s Gabriel, Juan, and another friend who sells helium-filled balloons.  There’s the 3-4 valet parking attendants at the restaurant across the street.  Goyo is the guy who sells “super tortas” in front of the bank and then the rest are random people who take notice of Micah in the stroller and flash a friendly smile on their brisk walk to work.

It takes about 20 minutes to walk to school.  I say a few more “hola, buenos dias”s to the teachers and receptionists at the school, kiss Micah, tell him I love him and let the teachers whisk him away.

Now when I pick Micah up from school, the routine is repeated but in reverse.  However, this time, there is an old couple on the street who I presume to be of indigenous origin by the language that they speak.  It’s difficult for me to give money to the poor when I see them on the same exact part of the street during very particular hours, only to not see them there on holidays and off-hours.  It seems a little “iffy” but maybe that’s just me.

In any case, I got tired (or guilty, perhaps?) of ignoring them so one day I decided I would have Micah hand them some money from the stroller.  The purpose of this was three-fold: 1) a few measly pesos from a child seems to be a more acceptable offering than from a grown man, 2) it’s the cute thing to do, and 3) life lessons at the age of 2 seems about right.  The lady with the cup appreciated our small offering, we all shared a smile and proceeded home.  I then affirmed Micah in his willingness to share and told him that this is what we’re supposed to do when we see people in need. 

The next day, the indigenous couple was in the same spot.  Using my “this is iffy” logic, I decided to give them a smile (nothing more) and go our merry way toward home. Besides, we already gave them money– this can’t be a daily thing, can it?  As soon as I passed them, my son yells out, “money, daddy!  money!”  I stopped the stroller, stooped to his level and asked him, “what do you mean son?  You think we should give them money?”  He says, “yeah.” 

I pulled out my wallet, handed him a few pesos and backed up the stroller so that he could deposit the small gift into the lady’s cup again.  Their gratitude was once again, very evident. We smiled and headed home.

The next day, the same thing.  It’s become very clear that my 2-year-old son is not going to let me just walk by these people who clearly have a need.  What I considered a one-time lesson has now become a daily practice.  Even if the teacher doesn’t practice what he preaches on a daily basis, the pupil will not let the opportunities pass.  Touche, my son, touche.

My dream for my children would be that they would be the Best Versions of Us x 1000.  That’s high-level math right there.

It’s no cliche to say that our children often teach us.  They are capable of showing us a way of life that is beautiful, generous, loving, and filled with wonder.

One day, our family will make our way back to the suburbs where the streets are swept daily and the vagabonds are met more on TV than in real life.  For now, I am grateful that we live in the City where the tension to give and serve is propelled with a daily opportunity.  It’s uncomfortable, it’s trying, and it is a test of what we really believe and practice. 

I’m thankful that at age 2, Micah gets it.  It’s not rocket science, it’s not a judgment call, it’s not a curriculum you study for weeks with a small group; it is a here and now.  “Money, Daddy!  Money!”  You have money, they don’t.  It’s simple, isn’t it?  Drop it in their cup and love them in simple, real ways… Duh!

Thanks, buddy.  You put your daddy to shame but you also make me unbelievably proud. 

How ’bout that?  My 2 year-old advocate for the poor, folks.


Osama is Dead. Celebrate good times?

Maybe you’re like me and you first heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death through Facebook, Twitter, or CNN . . . and if you’re really like me, you probably felt a strange sense of relief and retribution.  His death felt like good news. Initially.

But maybe you’re like me now and you’re wondering, wait a minute…why is this really good news? 

Because the person we say was responsible for the death of thousands on September 11, 2001 is now dead and somehow this makes everything better? 

Through his death, will the thousands of lives lost on that horrible day be restored?  Easter resurrection style?

Will the lives of the families who lost loved ones be that much better now?

Is this somehow the end of terrorism?

Is the ever-expanding, ever-autonomous Al Qaeda network suddenly going to call it quits now that their fearless leader is gone?

If the answer to all the questions above are “Yes,” then maybe it is time to celebrate.

Unfortunately, I can confidently say that all the answers to the questions are “No.” 

As long as this is the case, I don’t know what all this celebration is about. . .

. . . Especially when so many of us talk about and value love, grace, forgiveness, peace, and compassion. 

Yes, he did unspeakably wicked things and he needed to be captured and brought to justice.

But at the end of the day, we are celebrating a murder.  And it’s just a little unsettling to me.

So, why are you celebrating?  Help me understand, will ya?


3 Cups of B.S.?


I remember we had a deep discussion in the 8th grade about lying and we debated whether or not there are times when lying is ok.  We came to the conclusion that if we were living in Hitler’s Germany and we were hiding our Jewish neighbors, it would be ok to lie if the Nazi soldiers ever came knocking on our door to ask of their whereabouts.  This was the only scenario I could remember from our talk that day.

If the good outweighs the bad by a God-sized margin, I’m all for lying; especially if it means that I can save a life.

I wonder if this is what Greg Mortenson’s logic was as he wrote Three Cups of Tea, a New York Times best seller that is now under fire for allegations of falsehood. The controversy about the validity of many of his accounts, including an alleged kidnapping by the Taliban, has stirred a world-wide outrage by all who have read and felt their lives changed by this book.

[Read the CNN article here to get the lowdown]

Mortenson sold over 3 millions copies of the book in 47 different languages worldwide.  To say that this book is pretty influential would be like saying Brad Pitt is just ok-looking.  This book is a world-wide sensation and Brad Pitt makes it acceptable for heterosexual men to justify their strange feelings with the phrase “man-crush.”

I have not read the book but fortunately, many anecdotes from this book have been shared in our staff meetings by my friend this past month as a way to inspire and move our leadership.  Personally, the timing of this scandal couldn’t be more coincidental and peculiar!

As I ponder the ramifications of this controversy, I have developed my own set of FAQs that I consider my Three Cups of B.S:

1.  So he lied (allegedly).  What’s the big deal?  Authors, journalists, and reporters do this all the time!

I’ve honestly thought this.  What really is the big deal?  I guess the answers are somewhat obvious.  If this was an obscure book on the dusty shelves of a dollar bookstore, nobody would care.  The fact that over 3 million people purchased and read this book (along with countless other cheapskates who borrowed their friends’ copies) makes this a lie that is hard to swallow and make go-away.  The more people buy into your words and leadership, the greater your need for accountability.  Let’s take a line from Spiderman and satisfy my point:With great power comes great responsibility.” 

2.  Can’t we just start over and call this a work of Fiction?  Re-organize this book’s placement on the Dewey Decimal System?  It’s still a good book.

That’s what makes this controversy so difficult.  So much of what he’s written seems to be true. . .  and if it is not, it has to be true now.  Or does it?  Through the words and accounts in this book, millions were inspired and felt compelled to give to Mortenson’s non-profit.  Much-needed schools were built in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a result of the money that was raised.  I wonder: if this much good has been done for a group of people that the world had previously chosen to ignore, how could this scenario possibly be bad?  The book accomplished its mission did it not?  Read on to the next question.

3.  What is this REALLY about?

Money.  Plain and simple, this is an issue of money.  According to the CNN report, in 2009 Mortenson’s organization only used 41% of the $14 million that was raised to actually build and fund the schools.  The disbursement of the rest of the funds seems a little dubious. One would also have to wonder if his books would have sold the number it did if it was a work of fiction.

Bottom Line

If this was a controversy about just a few inaccurate stories and details in the book, I’m personally “ok” with it.  Not to say that I don’t believe in honesty and integrity in all works of art!  I believe that Mortenson’s book accomplished more good than bad–that people were inspired to examine and change their own lifestyles while broadening their scope of the global need is nothing short of a miracle!

I truly believe that Mortenson’s motives were/are good.  He discovered a need and he found a way to creatively fill it, using the only thing he had of worth in this regard: his stories from the ground.

Along the way, if the fund-raising became a little too successful for Mortenson to handle and the transparency and integrity in how all of the money was being spent became a lesser priority, this is unfortunate.

That being said, this is a lesson in honesty and openness, a possible debate on how lies have the potential to perform good (and if this is ultimately “ok”), and a possible example of how money corrupts.  I say possible because Greg Mortenson is still innocent until proven guilty.  We have to give him that much.

Whether this is relevant for our discussion now or not, I want to say for the record: if I was housing a family of Jews in my home as they run from the Nazis, I would lie my butt off to protect this family.  In fact, I would do more.  Is this how desperately Greg felt the need to assist these families in Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Who knows . . .


This is Not a Christian Blog

This is not a Christian blog.

I think it would be very easy to gear and fashion my posts to fit this mold, but I don’t think we need another “Christian” blog. There’s enough good ones out there anyway!

 

Some may find this disappointing, especially when you know that I am technically a “missionary” in Mexico City and recall that I was a worship pastor at a pretty amazing church.

If you have been reading my blog and you never knew this, I hope this revelation isn’t shocking or detrimental to our online relationship.  Stick around, please! I have more to share.  I love you.  I need you!  You complete me.

I think there are many amazing blogs out there that are more blatantly “Christian” but I just don’t feel like that’s my “calling” as a blogger… or as a person.  Call it a conviction?

I’m also sure that there are a lot of great blogs out there written by atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people who are far-removed from any sort of faith background. As for me, I can’t deny or hide the fact that I’m pretty heavily influenced by Jesus.  He’s my homie, He’s changed my life.

This blog is neither Christian nor atheist. I write about things that matter to me and hopefully to the society at large.  I just write and my values ooze out in the posts.  Grace, redemption, love, freedom, justice, humor, and (at times righteous) anger.  Christian is who I am, not the agenda I push or the blog I write.  I don’t need to slap a label on anything or wear a banner that shows I belong to some sort of club or belief system.

I think it takes a bit of courage as well as discipline to venture out of one’s subculture to intersect with the world at large.

We could use a few more blogs (and people) who are willing to engage people from all walks of life.  We need words of love, hope and inspiration to reach far outside of any bubble or barrier we unknowingly (or knowingly) create.  This requires writers to choose our words carefully and avoid content and jargon that is merely understood by a few.  Code language.  Drop it.

This is a challenge that not enough people of faith are choosing to accept.  They would rather say what’s “Biblical” without connecting with the world, get a few “amens” (perhaps in the form of a dozen comments) and call it a night. Easy if you ask me.

**It’s ok if you disagree because these are just my opinions, not facts… although I sometimes wish my words became facts.  That would be freakin sweet.**

So all that to say, I relish the challenge of writing about things that matter culturally and spiritually, and I love trying to communicate in ways that invites anyone to participate and understand.  I want to link the divide between pop-culture and faith, between atheism and “Christianity.”  I want to challenge everyone to think deeper, to communicate clearer, to help make this world a better place and become fans of the Los Angeles Lakers.  (last part optional)

So whether that’s Christian or not “Christian” enough is besides the point.  Call this blog whatever you want! I’m thankful you read it and find it worthwhile.

Maybe you have something to say on this?  What scenarios do you see some of these challenges at play in your own lives?  And more importantly, do you agree or disagree with me?  Because if you disagree with me, you are no longer welcome here… just kidding.